Musings, observations and the occasional insight as a newsy day three of the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville concludes the league’s annual player pick-fest....
* What a fun, entertaining and interesting fourth round of the draft that was:
- The Bengals and Patriots select a pair of tall and talented quarterbacks in N.C. State’s Ryan Finley and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, respectively.
- A couple of Loves come off the board and enter the NFC East: Notre Dame cornerback Julian to the Giants and Stanford running back Bryce to Washington.
- An Australian punter gets snatched up by San Francisco in Utah’s Mitch Wishnowsky. At pick No. 110 overall, no less!
- We saw Calvin Ridley’s little brother — Georgia receiver Riley Ridley — land with the Bears; Jets legend Matt Snell’s grandson (Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr.) become the Steelers latest running back; and the wonderfully named Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (Saints), Sheldrick Redwine (Browns) and Hjalte Froholdt (Patriots) have teams turn in a card for them.
- Shoot, there was even a Michael Jordan drafted (by the Bengals), and it seemed like the Ohio State guard’s selection was just to get us ready for Dallas picking Miami cornerback Michael Jackson in the middle of the fifth round.
If only every day three of the NFL Draft could start off in as intriguing a fashion as Saturday’s did.
* For a club that has bungled about every key decision it has made for the past two years, wasting big money and/or draft capital on quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Mike Glennon and Josh Rosen, plus hiring and firing head coach Steve Wilks within a year, the Cardinals had themselves a great draft.
I’m buying the Kyler Murray hype, and then last-place Arizona followed up by adding Washington cornerback Byron Murphy and Massachusetts receiver Andy Isabella in the second round, Boston College defensive end Zach Allen in the third round, Iowa State receiver Akeem Butler in the fourth round, Alabama safety Deionte Thompson in the fifth round and Fresno State receiver KeeSean Johnson in the sixth round.
That’s an impressive haul by almost anyone’s estimation, and boy, did Cardinals manager Steve Keim need to have a good three days of work in this draft. Already on thin ice in Arizona (there’s ice in Arizona?) for mistakes he made both on and off the field, Keim was under the gun as much if not more than any other NFL executive this week. And the early reviews say he responded and gave his foundering club a fresh start and a much-need infusion of talent with his strong showing.
The makeover on the Cardinals previously anemic offense is significant, with Murray, Isabella and Butler joining forces with the likes of holdover running back David Johnson and receivers Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald. The NFC West could be a dogfight next year, between the improvement Arizona has made, the return to health of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco, Seattle’s resurgence to playoff contender and Los Angeles being the defending NFC champions.
* The defending Super Bowl champions were also in not-messing-around mode in this draft. New England had a superb three days by all accounts, and trite as this might sound, the Patriots drafted a bunch of players who seem cut from the Patriot Way cloth. They got tough, physical players with high football intellect and that team-first mentality that is a must in Foxboro. And the beat goes on.
I’m not going to make the prediction that Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham finally will be the passer to some day take the baton from Tom Brady, but there’s a lot to work with in Stidham’s game and he’s a great value pick in the fourth round. He had a breakout 2017 season for Auburn, and was strong in the Music City Bowl blowout win this year, as well as turning in a fairly impressive week at the Senior Bowl in January, combined with a solid combine showing.
Everyone agrees his throwing arm is gifted, and if Stidham can show steady development as Brady’s epic career rolls on, the Patriots may hit the jackpot with him someday down the road, either as their future starter or a valuable trade chip. He has this much in common already with Brady: Both were the seventh quarterbacks selected in their respective draft classes, which worked out pretty well for No. 12.
* I thought the Bengals under new head coach Zac Taylor might be bold and take a first or second-round quarterback in the draft, thereby putting Andy Dalton on notice that his time as the team’s unquestioned starter has come to an end. Cincinnati didn’t go that route, but in taking North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley with the second pick of the fourth round, it has invested in a prospect who may in time really blossom under Taylor and upgrade the position over Dalton. Cincinnati traded three picks to the 49ers for the right to get their No. 104 selection, so the Bengals were motivated.
Finley played parts of six years of college quarterback and is already 24 — not quite Brandon Weeden territory — but he’s a tall, lean and surprisingly athletic, albeit not blessed with a shotgun of an arm. Some see Taylor’s offense as the best possible fit for Finley’s skill set, because he’s accurate with the ball and is good with touch and timing patterns. In the offense Jared Goff has played well in with the Rams, where he was coached by Taylor in 2018, Finley might similarly succeed.
Finley was the only quarterback the Bengals had in for a one-on-one visit, and Cincinnati was focused on him early on in the scouting process, believing he has good football smarts and will quickly master Taylor’s offense. If nothing else, he gives the Bengals a better fallback option if Dalton should struggle or contend with injuries in 2019.
* They’re going to need plenty of footballs to make Washington’s backfield work, because Jay Gruden’s team is suddenly flush with running backs. Washington drafted Stanford’s Bryce Love in the fourth round, and while the former Heisman runner-up is recovering from a January 2019 ACL injury and may wind up in essence red-shirting this season, there’s still Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice (returning from his own 2018 ACL tear), Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson on the running back depth chart.
Then again, the story is roughly the same at the crowded quarterback position in Washington. Alex Smith and Colt McCoy are both returning from leg injuries, while the newly signed Case Keenum and the just-drafted Dwayne Haskins are on hand as well, probably to battle for the starting job. They can’t all make the regular-season roster.
* Regardless of what Steve Smith might rant about without thinking on NFL Network, I had zero problem with Josh Rosen deciding to jump off the Cardinals bandwagon on social media once Arizona draft Kyler Murray Thursday night. He knew the gig was up in Arizona and he would be quickly headed elsewhere. It was never going to be a quarterback competition with Murray. It was a zero sum game the Cardinals were playing.
Rosen showed he got that, even if Smith didn’t, and that he had a little class and self-deprecation on his way out with the Cardinals. On Instagram, he shot a goodbye video to Arizona fans that included the following sentiments:
“Cardinals fans, thank you so much for all the continued support this past year. I know we didn’t win as many games as we all would have had hoped, but I had an unbelievable time in the desert. Unfortunately my time here is coming to an end, but you guys are really getting a great player in Kyler Murray. He’s going to do great things for the Red Sea. Kyler, I just want to congratulate you and your family for getting drafted. Arizona is a really special place and you’re going to love playing and living here.”
And he capped it all with a nice, funny reference to Murray hopefully buying his now-vacated place in Arizona: “Kyler, one more thing. An awesome two-bedroom in Old Town just came on the market so let me know if you’re interested and I think I can get you a pretty good deal.’’
* It’s foolish to try and grade the Giants-Browns Odell Beckham Jr. trade before the 2019 season even starts, but we at least now know who New York got in exchange for their superstar receiver. New York used the No. 17 overall pick it got from Cleveland to select Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, and spent the Browns’ third-round pick on Old Dominion defensive end Oshane Ximines. In addition, the Browns shipped safety Jabrill Peppers, a former first-round pick, to the Giants.
Was that enough of a return for a receiver with the other-worldly talents as Beckham Jr.? On the surface, probably not. But let’s see what Lawrence and Ximines can do for a Giants defense that was desperate for more pass rush, and let’s give Beckham a chance to remind us how special a playmaker he is for the Browns before we pass any final judgment on New York general manager Dave Gettleman’s risky move.
* On the other hand, we’re probably on safe ground to declare that the Steelers got nowhere near enough for star receiver Antonio Brown in dealing him to the Raiders last month, but then we already knew that, didn’t we? The difference being, of course, Pittsburgh had to cut ties and deal Brown for whatever it could get. The Giants moved Beckham Jr. by choice, not necessity.
Oakland sent the Steelers third and fifth-round picks for Brown, and brace yourself if you’re standing, Pittsburgh used them to select Toledo receiver Diontae Johnson in the third round and Michigan tight end Zach Gentry in the fifth. Not exactly household names, but then what did we expect in the third and fifth rounds? No disrespect to those players, but once their names are designated as the return on the Brown deal, it’s going to look like a fleece job.
But again, that was was already accepted and a largely built into the equation, given the Steelers’ lack of leverage with their mercurial star. Johnson at least should be given the benefit of the doubt, in light of Pittsburgh’s history of finding receiving gems in the draft, but that track record has been spotty of late (see Markus Wheaton, Dri Archer, Sammie Coates, etc.). As for Gentry, he was considered a potential undrafted free agent by some draft observers, but the Steelers saw more value in him than that and used the 141st pick to secure his rights. Let’s see if he can help off-set the loss of ex-Steeler tight end Jesse James in free agency.
* I’m anxious to see how creative the Ravens get in finding ways to get sixth-round pick Trace McSorley on the field. The former Penn State quarterback has made it clear he doesn’t have any interest in playing defensive back, where some NFL scouts asked him to work out at the combine in Indianapolis. But Saints coach Sean Payton has compared him to Julian Edelman, who was a college quarterback at Kent State before he became a Patriots receiving star.
With McSorley’s two-way running and throwing threat, many see the potential for him to morph into a role similar to what New Orleans does with Taysom Hill, who was a valuable member of the Saints offensive weaponry. Be it as a runner, a passer, or even a receiver, look for Baltimore to try and get the ball into his hands in a variety of ways, in a variety of packages. Maybe he could help confuse defenses when he lines up next to quarterback Lamar Jackson in the red zone, giving teams pause as to who will carry or throw the ball?
In time, McSorley could develop into a very potent option for Baltimore, and his versatility and athleticism could be the key to a long and productive NFL career. Even if he did enter the league as the lowly 197th overall pick.